MONTEVERDI Night. Stories of Lovers and Warriors
As anniversaries go, 450 isn’t much of a round number, but since it will be another quarter-century until the next Monteverdi year, we’ll settle for it. Concerto Italiano are marking this one with extensive touring and this new CD, consisting primarily of madrigals they’ve recorded before, albeit before the ‘great schism’ that led to a substantial overhaul of their line-up around the turn of the millennium. The programme’s theme is night, its terrors and delights, and the conjunction of love and war at the heart of the eighth book.
We have Alessandrini’s long experience to thank for a programme of guile and sophistication. With instrumental sinfonias serving as intermedios, a striking Combattimento is framed by ‘Hor che’l ciel e la terra’ and Tancredo’s ‘Lamento’ from Book 3, which picks up the thread after Clorinda’s last breath but was composed more than 30 years earlier. The Lamento della ninfa is a logical continuation, while ‘Al lume delle stelle’ sees a male protagonist bemoan an enforced separation, both genders doing so in a gorgeous ‘A Dio, florida bella’. The alternation of monodic and polyphonic pieces, of a cappella and mixed scorings, is pleasingly varied. A dark palette pervades all, not gloomy but suggestive of the altered, heightened senses that night brings forth: even the genial ‘Ecco mormorar l’onde’ has more shade than light.
The tone of Alessandrini’s male soloists (most prominently in the Combattimento) is perhaps not classically beautiful but they have guts and a hint of menace. Anna Sinboli’s Clorinda captures the character’s vulnerability, though Elisa Franzetti just possibly bests her as she breathes her last. Most intriguingly, Alessandrini’s reading of the work 20 years on is strikingly different: less dramatic, more analytical, in keeping with the programme – added to which the instruments and the recorded sound are far brighter. Some may find this analytical approach at odds with the popular view of Monteverdi but this misses the fact that it took a formidable musical intellect to harness music to the service of flesh and blood. This recording is in a direct line with Alessandrini’s superb account of Book 6 for Naïve, and is in many ways just as impressive. It’s also a reminder that he has yet to record three of Monteverdi’s madrigal books (not least the magnificent seventh). Might this anniversary year see him complete the cycle?